Newtok Village in Alaska is one of the communities that received money for relocation due to climate change. (Source: Travis / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska, as well as the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington have each received $25 million in federal support to relocate due to climate change. 

“As part of the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility to protect Tribal sovereignty and revitalize tribal communities, we must safeguard Indian Country from the intensifying and unique impacts of climate change,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement. “Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate-related investments we could make in Indian Country.”

Eight additional Tribal communities received planning grants to prepare for relocation or increased climate resilience measures. The grants, which are worth $5 million each, are earmarked for communities facing significant and widely varied climate risks, including coastal and riverine erosion, permafrost degradation, wildfire, flooding, food insecurity, sea level rise, hurricane impacts, potential levee failure, and drought.

Funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides a total of $466 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) over five years, including $216 million for climate resilience programs. Of that funding, $130 million is provided for community relocation and $86 million is provided for Tribal climate resilience and adaptation projects. 

The Inflation Reduction Act provides BIA with an additional $220 million for climate adaptation and resilience, of which the Department anticipates spending $40 million to support voluntary community-driven relocation efforts, with the remainder supporting broader Tribal climate resilience activities.

The announcement is in addition to $45 million in Tribal Climate Resilience awards made by BIA.

“From wildfires out west to typhoons in Alaska, I have seen firsthand the devastating effect climate change and extreme weather has on communities across the nation, especially in Indian Country. That is why FEMA and the entire Biden-Harris administration take seriously our responsibility to provide tailored assistance to Tribal Nations before, during and after disasters,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in a statement. 

“While FEMA continues to help Tribal Nations plan for future conditions and strengthen tribal community resilience through our suite of hazard mitigation tools and resources, we are excited to partner with our federal family on larger projects such community-driven relocation to further support all Tribal Nations. 

Sally Cox, a local government planner with the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA), the State of Alaska’s local government agency, began working with Newtok on the village relocation effort in 2006. 

“At this time, I worked with the community to organize the Newtok Planning Group, which is composed of representatives from state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations,” she told the Daily Yonder. “We began meeting with Newtok to coordinate assistance for the relocation effort, and are still meeting with the community.”

Cox said the village of Newtok decided to relocate in 1994 after a decade of trying to address the community’s erosion threat by other means of mitigation. 

The village of Napakiak is conducting a managed retreat, which is different from a relocation, she added.

“A managed retreat is when a portion of the community is moved away from hazardous areas to locations nearby or adjacent to the current village site,” she said. “Relocation is when the entire community is moved to a new location not connected to the current site. The decision of whether to relocate or to conduct a managed retreat is usually based on the availability of developable land nearby. Napakiak has been conducting a managed retreat since the 1960s and has now reached the point where most of the facilities and infrastructure will need to be moved to adjacent, higher ground in the community.”

She said the grants will provide a significant boost to each community’s efforts to mitigate the natural hazards impacting their safety, and help them make progress with their preferred solutions.

Calls and emails made to the 11 Tribal Nations by the Daily Yonder for interviews were unsuccessful. 

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